Graduate students’ lives are often exceedingly busy, leaving them little time to eat properly or exercise or generally take care of themselves. This is not a post about eating healthy, necessarily, but it is definitely a post about eating well. Specifically, about eating broyé, a salted butter cookie from France that takes very few minutes to put together and is thus perfectly suited for the busy graduate student. It’s also delicious, easy, and impressive, and when you serve it (if you are nice enough to share with others) everyone asks for the recipe. It also requires precious few ingredients, most of which are already in your kitchen.
I know that not everyone is a baker – I happen to love to bake, and use it as stress relief and a source of enjoyment and comfort in my life (and, if I’m being honest, as a source of procrastination when grading jail looms). If you are also a baker, terrific – this will be a great recipe for your arsenal. If you aren’t, that’s cool, too – this recipe is beyond easy, don’t let the French name fool you. Just give it a whirl.
Here’s a few things to know before we get started: all credit for this recipe goes to the great Dorie Greenspan. Ms. Greenspan is a baking legend with a wonderful website, doriegreenspan.com. Her recipes are precise, meticulously tested, but written with a lovely, welcoming voice. This particular recipe is found under “salted butter break-ups” in her most recent cookbook, last year’s terrific Around My French Table. This is a great cookbook, though it’s a bit ambitious if you’re just starting out in the kitchen. This recipe is one of the most accessible and pays remarkable dividends for the little work required to make it. As she tells us, “the cookie is a tradition in the Poitou region, a part of western France where butter is prized” (400). Well. That’s probably all you need to know about how great this is.
What do you need?
1 3/4 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
3/4-1 teaspoon sel gris or kosher salt
9 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 18 pieces
3-5 tablespoons cold water
1 egg yolk, for the glaze
The dough for this recipe must be chilled for 1 hour. (Though you can keep it in the fridge for up to 3 days, should you forget you put in it the fridge. You can also freeze the dough for up to 2 months.)
A note on sel gris: Also called fleur de sel, this is a grayish sea salt with large crystals. I found mine at the spice store Penzey’s. This type of salt is popular in French cooking and baking. If you don’t have it, or don’t want to buy it just to make some broyé, you can easily substitute kosher salt. What you don’t want to do is substitute table salt, as the crystals are too fine for this recipe and will make the cookie much too salty.
Alright, let’s make this thing.
Here’s the device that makes this recipe so ridiculously easy:
Yep, a food processor. Mine is from the eighties, but it was free, so there you go. If you don’t happen to have one, don’t despair: either use a pastry cutter or your own hands to put the dough together.
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the food processor. I always use a full teaspoon of salt because to my mind, the beauty of this cookie is its marriage of butter, sugar, and the hint of salt, and 3/4 of a teaspoon doesn’t do it for me. Pulse a few times to thoroughly mix. Drop in the pieces of butter and continue to pulse until the dough looks like coarse meal. At this point the dough won’t look even; some pieces will be pea-sized, some will be small flakes. Leave the machine running, and add the cold water one tablespoon at a time. Whenever I make this cookie it usually takes at least 4 tablespoons to get the right texture. The dough should just come together and be very malleable.
Tip the dough out of the bowl, using a spatula to scrape out any that remains. Form the dough into a rough square and flatten it down a bit. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for an hour.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. You’ll see in the following pictures that I use Silpats, a silicone baking mat by the French company Demarle. These are available in a variety of sizes from Amazon at an affordable price. Silpats have a variety of uses, but certainly if you’re someone who bakes quite a bit (and I bake every other day) parchment paper gets a bit wasteful, and Silpats are reusable and very effective.
Get the dough from the fridge and grab a rolling pin. If you don’t have a rolling pin, a wine bottle also works. Put the dough between two sheets of either parchment paper or plastic wrap (I usually use plastic wrap, since it’s already got one layer in use anyway). Roll out the dough into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick and approximately 5 x 11 inches. Approximately – it really isn’t too important, since the beauty of the cookie is that people just break a piece off of it. Peel the top piece of plastic wrap or parchment off and flip the dough onto the lined baking sheet, then peel the remaining piece of plastic wrap or parchment off. Here’s what you should have:
And oh yes, those are fingerprints on the lower edge of my broyé. The dough is a bit delicate and had ripped apart slightly when I transferred it onto the sheet. So I just pressed it back together again. And you know what? Nobody can taste those fingerprints and you can’t even see them in the finished cookie. So don’t sweat it if this happens to you.
Next, beat the egg yolk with a few drops of cold water. Using a pastry brush, apply the egg yolk across the top of the cookie (don’t be shy here).
Now take the back of a fork (I like to use a dessert fork since the tines are smaller) and make a cross-hatch pattern across the cookie.
Bake the cookie for 30 to 40 minutes, until it’s golden. This cookie is nice because unlike actual cookies, which generally require a fairly close watch, if you’re a few minutes off with this cookie, it’s no disaster. In fact, you’ll just end up with a crispier edge, which is everyone’s favorite part anyway. You’ll know the cookie is done when it’s firm to the touch, but the center still has a bit of spring to it when you press it.
Place the baking sheet on a rack and let the cookie cool to room temperature.
The cookie is lovely by itself, and also great with a bowl of sliced peaches or strawberries and some fresh whipped cream, if you want to gild the lily a bit. Set it out on the table and watch it disappear.
[All images taken by Ariel Nereson]
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